Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
Sometime in the late ’90s I discovered existentialism and the Smiths. While pondering Camus’ famous claim that the only serious question in life is whether or not to kill yourself, I’d listen to “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” on repeat and draw on my wall. That was a light six months in the Goodman household. (Sorry, parents). The thing is, I wasn’t really a depressed teenager. I grew up in a sunny climate. I did sports and homework. I liked my family. It was just that the question “Do I even want to bother living?” felt like a practical one we should all ask. And if your answer was yes, Morrissey seemed to be describing what you were signing up for. As has been said many times about great, dark art, somehow listening to the Smiths all day in my black-walled bedroom didn’t make me feel despondent, it made me feel understood and therefore, lighter.
“The way ’Breaking Bad’ is the greatest comedy on TV and ’Hamlet’ is a riot and the best comics are often one joke away from being institutionalized, it turns out misery is the funniest shit in the world.”
Morrissey’s unparalleled ability to transform melancholy into elation was on full display the other night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Mozzer always had a thing for ageless crooners, and as he’s gotten older he’s seemed more and more like a man who belongs on elegant stages. His fans have grown up too; the men are greying at the temples and the women have gone goth-light, swapping tasteful red lipstick and expensive knits for the gobs of eyeliner and polyester of their past. “Let’s get a Saab,” one guy said to his date in the plush lobby pre-show. But once they entered the main concert hall and the ushers closed the doors, everyone was sixteen again, bedroom door closed, drawing on the walls. By the time Morrissey made his way through multiple hits (and several of his signature pastel shirts) he got to the inimitable “Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” and the crowd seemed to collectively close its eyes and sway, elevated by this primal, plaintive plea.
This was by far one of the most moving moments at any rock show I’ve seen in a while. And it was also hilarious. All these humans – grown up, soon-to-be-Saab-owners – pleading en masse with to the universe to release us from our pain, just as we have been since puberty. I thought about that scene from Pretty In Pink where Blaine and Andie finally get together while Duckie sits all alone in his sad little apartment, flipping cards into his hat while this song plays on the stereo. So tragic! So funny! The way Breaking Bad is the greatest comedy on TV and Hamlet is a riot and the best comics are often one joke away from being institutionalized, it turns out misery is the funniest shit in the world. And no one knows this better than Morrissey, which is why I play “I Know It’s Over” and “Unloveable” to rally after a breakup.
A few years ago, during a friend’s interview with the Mozzer in LA, he walked in not wearing black on the outside because it’s how he feels on the inside, but a pink shirt and aviators. Upon being greeted with a patio full of tropical foliage he paused to sort of inhale, taking it all in, and remarked on the garden’s beauty. Morrissey actually stopped to smell the roses. That’s the kind of miserable we should all aspire to.